Summer breakdown: Defensive line could be headed toward dominant season

by - Correspondent -
Dexter Lawrence and company should be good again this season
Dexter Lawrence and company should be good again this season

Clemson's defensive line should once again be one of the nation's best, with Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins clogging the middle and Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant on the outside. In the first of a series of fall camp previews, Daniel Shirley takes a look at that position.

Starters on summer depth chart: Clelin Ferrell (Soph., DE); Austin Bryant (Jr., DE); Dexter Lawrence (Soph., DT); Christian Wilkins (Jr., DT).

Other key returners: Chris Register (Jr.); Jabril Robinson (Jr.); Albert Huggins (Jr.); Sterling Johnson (Soph.).

New faces: Nyles Pinckney (R-Fr.); Xavier Kelly (R-Fr.); Jordan Williams (Fr.); Jacob Edwards (Fr.); James Edwards (Fr.).

The breakdown: That first group could lead this defensive line to one of the best seasons in Clemson history, and if you know anything about Clemson’s defensive line history, you know that is saying something.

New defensive line coach Todd Bates, however, will need some of the other players to step up to provide depth and keep the starters from being on the field too much. That starts with Huggins, who needs to have the breakout season Clemson fans have been waiting for from him.

Robinson is solid, and Bates will need the young talent (Pinckney, Kelly and Williams) to add to the depth and give the line a big boost.

If that happens, watch out.

Ferrell was terrific last season, especially in the College Football Playoff, and Bryant should be fully healthy and ready to go from the first game this season. Those two on the outside could lead to a lot of problems for opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators, and there is a lot of talk about Ferrell jumping to the NFL after this season (Bryant could make that jump, as well). If Ferrell has a good enough season to go to the NFL, that’s a terrific sign for defensive coordinator Brent Venables.

And the two stars in the middle (Wilkins and Lawrence) evoke memories of the great Clemson defensive line tandems of the past.

Wilkins is one of the best athletes in the country no matter of position, and he certainly has lived up to his recruiting billing during his first two seasons with the program. One more season like that, and Wilkins could be headed to the NFL after this season, as well.

Lawrence was one of the best freshmen in the country in 2016, and there is no doubt he is going to continue to improve. That has to be a scary thought for opposing offenses, and he has a chance to be one of the best Clemson defensive players ever.

Bates certainly stepped into a terrific situation in his first season with the Tigers.

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., and co-host of The Midday Sports Zone on Middle Georgia’s ESPN, 93.1 FM and 99.5 FM. Follow him on Twitter at @DM_Shirley and read his blog at

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